You like what you eat, you eat what you like, you are what you eat.
In the First World, instead of being vegetables, fruits, grains, meat, butter, honey, and cheese, we are HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable protein such as Vegamine®), esters, genetically-modified wheat/corn/soy, fully hydrogenated oils, cellulose, aspartame, and artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. Mmmm.
In his 2015 book entitled The Dorito Effect, Mark Schatzker investigates the impact of flavor on the foods we choose to eat. Processed and mass-produced food has been around for decades—most of what we buy at the grocery store comes in some sort of package. What has changed in recent years is the science of flavor.
“About 90 percent of the money that Americans spend on food is used to buy processed food. But the canning, freezing, and dehydrating techniques used to process food destroy most of its flavor. Since the end of World War II, a vast industry has arisen in the United States to make processed food palatable.”(1)
Science of Flavor
Coinciding with the science of producing crops and livestock for larger size and greater yield, the flavors of real food became diluted, as did its nutrition.
To compensate, chemists developed flavors to mimic natural ones so what we ate would taste the same—or better, adding empty calories in the process.
We see what the result of this exercise has been, with rates of obesity, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes rising at a frightening rate. From Schatzker’s book:
“Synthetic flavors in foods have heightened their desirability at the very same time that whole foods are losing flavor. Tomatoes, chicken, strawberries—everything we grow is bigger and cheaper, but blander than ever…Now that we’ve broken that connection between flavor and nutrition by creating synthetic flavors, we have created foods that tell a thrilling but deceptive nutritional lie.”
Studies have shown that artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives are detrimental to children, the most vulnerable of our society.(2)
Our bodies crave the food we need for their nutrition.
When eating something that TASTES like it’s supposed to taste but doesn’t contain the corresponding nutrients, the craving isn’t satisfied.
We then overeat even if not hungry, our bodies seeking the vitamins, minerals, proteins, and phytochemicals to sustain life and promote health.
“Evolution did not program us to get fat—we’ve simply tricked ourselves into craving the wrong foods.”
Schatzker tells a story in The Globe and Mail of the most delicious and satisfying chicken he ever ate:
“I had given up on chicken because it was too bland… I found a hatchery… and arranged for 100 or so hatchlings to be delivered to a friend’s farm. After a few weeks on starter feed, they goose-stepped into the greenery like they owned the place and began pecking in their terrifically precise way at blades of grass, slugs, frogs, seeds and, once, a snake. At 14 weeks, they were more than double the age of supermarket broilers and around half the size…One afternoon, we killed the biggest… Beneath the great puff of black-and-white feathers was something small and bony. The skin was yellow and the fat inside the carcass was darker yellow. It didn’t look like chicken. It looked like a dead bird. There were only 21/2 pounds of dead bird, bones included…The plan was as follows: Fill up on corn on the cob. Fill up on salad. Because there wasn’t enough dead bird for four adults…And my, what a chicken. The stages of pleasure went as follows: incredulity, astonishment, elation, glowing thankfulness…We were drunk on chicken. Most amazing of all, somehow there were leftovers.”(3)
Fast food is the perfect example of how flavor science works. In his book Fast Food Nation, Robert Kenner talks about what may arguably be the world’s most favorite food: McDonald’s French fries.
“The taste of a fast food fry is largely determined by the cooking oil. For decades, McDonald’s cooked its french fries in a mixture of about 7 percent cottonseed oil and 93 percent beef tallow… Amid a barrage of criticism over the amount of cholesterol in their fries, McDonald’s switched to pure vegetable oil in 1990. The switch presented the company with an enormous challenge: how to make fries that subtly taste like beef without cooking them in tallow. A look at the ingredients now used in the preparation of McDonald’s french fries suggests how the problem was solved. Toward the end of the list is a seemingly innocuous, yet oddly mysterious phrase: ‘natural flavor.’”(4)
“Natural” is often a misnomer.
Both “natural” and “artificial” flavors and colors are human-made.
Eating is not just an experience sensed by the tongue and mouth; aroma and color are part and parcel. How foods smell and look are almost as important as they taste, as your first impression of a food happens well before you put it in your mouth.
By making processed foods more flavorful, fragrant, and colorful—and sometimes misleading their content on package labels—food manufacturers are tricking you into believing that what you’re eating is real, basic food.
But oftentimes, it’s not.
So the level of satisfaction we attain after eating is short-lived.
Schatzker asserts that by understanding the chemistry of flavor we can work backwards, removing chemicals and returning to traditional ways of raising food so it tastes like it’s supposed to—with the accompanying nutrition and all that implies.